The Pacers started the game in a hole after Domantas Sabonis was ruled out, joining Myles Turner on the bench with a matchup against Andre Drummond, a player who has drummed both in past matchups. Oh, but this time Drummond was running alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Yep, the Lakers had what they plan to be their championship lineup back together, while the Pacers had to start four reserves with Caris LeVert who returned to played after missing the last game with a bruised knee. All the Pacers had in their favor was a jet lag advantage since the game tipped off at 10 a.m. PT for the Lakers.
The Pacers had a chance to move into the eighth spot in the East with a win, but the Lakers had equal incentive to win for their playoff seeding in the West. So with those conditions equal, the manpower differential was cavernous.
With all of the issues stacked against the Pacers, they started strong, taking an early 10-8 lead. LeBron hit his first shot but settled into a facilitator role, playing seven minutes in the first quarter with five assists and a transition lob dunk that forced a Pacers timeout.
After solid scrambling defense early in the game, the Pacers were run over whenever the Lakers stopped them at the defensive end. Drummond, LeBron and Anthony Davis all had early lob dunks. Any rust the Lakers lineup had was shed after three or for possessions and it became a question of how long they would play. Davis played the full first quarter, scored 17 points with 5 rebounds as the Lakers scored 36 points to take an 8-point lead.
The Pacers were able to hang around thanks to the effectiveness of JaKarr Sampson around the hoop. His ability to finish early and the attention he grabbed leaving other options open helped the Pacers swap buckets with the Lakers, and eventually led an early second quarter run that forced Frank Vogel to call a timeout.
Of course, this was when the Lakers had LeBron and AD on the bench together making the Lakers just a normal NBA team. That was a fun four minutes. When the lead was cut to two points, LeBron soon returned. A minute later, the Lakers were up 11 and that’s how the game went until a last ditch run by the Pacers.
When the Lakers needed to, the could hit the gas and extend the lead despite the Pacers best effort, and the Pacers had no shortage of effort. The home team continued making runs at the champs in the first half. Caris LeVert had 16 points, 5 rebs and 5 assists at the break. Sampson had 14 points at the break.
The cycle continued into the third quarter until the Lakers established a double-digit lead which made it much easier to fend off the the mini runs the Pacers would occasionally mount.
However, one last big run had the Pacers cut the lead to five with 3:50 left in the game. The run was fueled by solid defensive stops which allowed the Pacers to push the ball in transition.
After another stop, the Pacers went to LeVert to cut the lead to three points with three to play. Somehow, the whistle kept blowing at the Lakers end after missed shots (shocking). A replay ruling in the Pacers favor saved two free throws by Anthony Davis but gave the Lakers the ball for a 3-pointer by LeBron. After a stop, LeBron scored again, then again before Kelan Martin answered with a 3.
Yes, Kelan Martin was playing crunch time and the Pacers gave it all they had.
They just didn’t have LeBron.
- The Pacers loss along with Charlotte’s loss to the Knicks creates a three-way tie for the 8th, 9th and 10th seeds. Since the Pacers don’t have the tie breaker against either the Hornets nor Wizards, they must beat the Raptors to hold onto the 9th seed. The Wiz and Hornets play each other on Sunday with big stakes suddenly.
- Caris LeVert put forth a valiant effort considering he was the focus of the Lakers defense. LeVert finished with 28 points and 12 assists after playing 39 minutes.
- JaKarr Sampson finished with a season high 20 points off the bench, giving the Lakers fits around the rim.
- Kelan Martin played a solid role off the bench with 15 points in 26 minutes, playing big minutes late instead of Doug McDermott to help out on the defensive end.
- This was a great “experience” game for several players with Goga Bitadze playing heavy minutes, the afore mentioned Martin and even Cassius Stanley forced into the fray.
- Anthony Davis did most of his damage in the first half and finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
- LeBron closed the game for the Lakers finishing with 24 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds in 28 minutes while returning from a high ankle sprain.
- It must be said, not as an excuse, but merely an observations...man, there were some quick whistles on the Pacers for LeBron and AD while at the other some mind numbing no calls. Was joking with a friend before the game, that if this one was close, the whistles could get hilarious in favor of the Lakers and their quest for the six seed. The Lakers didn’t need such help, but yeah, that’s also why the Pacers should embrace their revenue sharing checks.
- The Fieldhouse had its largest crowd of the season with the west side upper deck open and plenty of fans spread out across all levels. Sure, many were Lakers fans, but it was nice to see a bigger crowd at BLF.